|Cape Nature Conservation|
THE DEMISE OF THE SOUTHERN CAPE COAST -
The proliferation of holiday resorts, and particularly large-scale developments
such as polo fields, golf courses and golf estates in the Southern Cape
coastal area has now reached a stage where intervention at a high level
is required. More and more of the last remaining natural areas containing
critical habitats for plants and animals are being fragmented and destroyed
by developments at an alarming rate. Ecological corridors linking the
mountains to the sea, as well as corridors along the coast, are now almost
impossible to establish.
Conservation significance of the Southern Cape area
From a conservation point of view, the Southern Cape is a truly unique
and very special area. Two of the 27 globally recognised biodiversity
hotspots, namely the Fynbos and Sub-Tropical Thicket biomes, occur here.
Both these biomes are known to be very rich in species, many of which
are endemic to the region. The two biomes often become intertwined to
form mosaic vegetation units, which are rich in localised endemic species
adapted to the specific mosaic habitat conditions.
The vegetation of the area between Still Bay and Plettenberg Bay, as
compiled from both the STEP (Sub-Tropical Thicket Ecosystem Planning)
and CAPE (Cape Action for People and the Environment) maps is illustrated
1 and Figure
3 (Vlok & Euston-Brown 2002, Lombard et al. 2003).
Most of the vegetation units in the area have very limited distribution
ranges, for example Hartenbos Strandveld, Robberg Dune Thicket, Keurbooms
Grassy Fynbos and Albertinia Sandplain Fynbos.
The extent of transformation in the same area is shown in Figure
2 and Figure
4 . It should be noted that these data represents the 1998 extent
of transformation by urbanisation, cultivation, heavy grazing, forestry
and dense stands of alien plants and have been derived from remote sensing
done for the CAPE project by Lloyd et al. (1999). It is also important
to bear in mind that the transformation information, particularly for
alien plant invasions, agricultural expansion and coastal developments,
is underrepresented because of the time that has lapsed since the CAPE
study was done. Even from this underestimated and incomplete information
it is evident that transformation has had a significant impact on most
of the vegetation units, with very little remaining of Riversdale Coast
Renosterveld, Hartenbos Strandveld, Robberg Dune Thicket, Herbertsdale
Renoster Thicket, Blanco Fynbos Renosterveld Mosaic and Outeniqua and
Tsitsikamma Plateau Fynbos.
Within most of the vegetation units in the area, virtually nothing is
conserved in formal statutory protected areas. Only a part of the Goukamma
Dune Fynbos and Knysna Afromontane Forest, and a small proportion of Still
Bay and Robberg Dune Thicket fall into areas managed by the Western Cape
Nature Conservation Board (WCNCB), South African National Parks and Dept.
of Water Affairs and Forestry.
According to the results of the CAPE and STEP projects most of this area
has been identified as being highly to totally irreplaceable (80% -100%)
in terms of its conservation value. In addition, the conservation status
maps from the STEP report show that the entire region falls within the
'Endangered' or 'Critically Endangered' categories: these maps are in
the STEP Handbook (Pierce 2003) which has been circulated to all local
authorities for incorporation into IDPs and SDFs. Owing to this high conservation
status, which is driven by the high levels of transformation and future
threats, any further loss of these vegetation units will compromise conservation
options substantially. The STEP-Project in particular emphasised the importance
of establishing a coastal corridor (referred to as the Dune Megaconservancy
Network). Along the coast, many ecological and evolutionary processes
are aligned along east-west climatic and biogeographic gradients (Vlok et
al. (2003). Options for maintaining any continuous coastal corridor
have already been almost totally foreclosed, but any remaining natural
vegetation should receive protection of the highest status.
Main impacts of large-scale developments
To highlight and explain the problems associated with large-scale developments
the distribution of golf courses and golf estates in the Southern Cape
is shown in Figures 5 and 6. A total of 40 existing and proposed golf
courses and estates are indicated on the maps. It should be noted that
most of the golf courses marked as ' existing ' have been developed
after 1997, i.e. after the Section 21 activities and EIA regulations under
the Environmental Conservation Act, 1989 (Act 73 of 1989) were promulgated
in September 1997.
Habitat loss. Although it is often argued by developers
and consultants that golf courses are a 'soft development option', the
direct and indirect impacts of these developments on the biophysical environment
are substantial in the long term. Golf courses and golf estates take up
vast areas of land and mostly lead to significant habitat loss and fragmentation.
When comparing the golf course maps Figure
5 and Figure
6 with the transformation maps of 1999 Figure
2 and Figure
4 , it is evident that most of these golf courses and estates are
or will be impacting on some of the remaining natural areas, thereby
resulting in more habitat loss.
Habitat fragmentation. Fragmentation of natural areas
as a result of these large-scale developments is having a significant
impact on some of the ecological processes that sustain the vegetation
units. In particular, the vegetation units that are dependent on fire
(e.g. Hartenbos Strandveld, Herbertsdale Renoster Thicket, Blanco Fynbos
Renosterveld Mosaic, Outeniqua Plateau Fynbos, Tsitsikamma Plateau Fynbos,
etc.) are being affected. Fire plays an integral role in the maintenance
of species diversity and ecological processes in fynbos and renosterveld.
Research has indicated that it is critical that fynbos fires have to be
carried out under hot and dry conditions during late summer (i.e. February
or March) to obtain the high intensity that is required for optimal regeneration
and seedling recruitment. When fynbos vegetation is fragmented by developments
(e.g. houses, buildings, infrastructure, etc.), it becomes almost impossible
to burn the fynbos patches under optimal conditions, because of fear that
houses or infrastructure could burn down. If fire is kept out of the fragmented
fynbos areas for too long, the species composition of these areas will
be altered, as thicket species will establish on these sites, which will
eventually outshade and replace the fynbos species (e.g. Brenton Blue
Butterfly Reserve). Likewise, if these ecological burns are executed under
cool, wet conditions (i.e. not the mentioned optimal conditions) the species
composition will also change, because resprouting species will be favoured
at the cost of many of the non-sprouting species.
Whenever these facts have been pointed out to consultants, developers,
as well as the authorities, they have continuously received marginal attention
(e.g. comments on Roodefontein Golf Estate, Pinnacle Point Golf Estate,
Turtle Creek Golf Estate, etc.). The normal response received is that
fire is a management issue, which will be addressed in the operational
phase environmental management plan for the development. We need to point
out that not one of the existing developments have yet implemented a burning
programme under optimal conditions, because of fear that houses or infrastructure
could burn down. In addition, no or very little enforcement or compliance
monitoring is taking place.
In addition, fragmentation of vegetation units by large-scale developments
also affects the linkage between different units which is vital for the
migration of genetic material of plants and animals. This linkage is critical
for the maintenance of the integrity of many species in the area.
Water provision. The provision of water to these large-scale
developments is a matter of serious concern. This is an issue which has
also been repeatedly raised by the WCNCB. Consultants and developers usually
respond by saying that it is the duty of the local authority to supply
water to the development.
For irrigation of the golf courses, developers often indicate that recycled
sewerage water will be used. When they are informed about the fact that
nutrient enrichment of the soils will be detrimental to the fynbos (which
is adapted to nutrient poor soils), they respond by saying that the issue
will be dealt with in the environmental management plan of the development.
It is unlikely that even the best engineered mitigatory measures can prevent
the draining of nutrient enriched water into adjacent fynbos areas. The
relevant precautionary principle should be accentuated in this regard.
Surveys carried out by the River Conservation Unit of the WCNCB have
indicated that most of the rivers in the Southern Cape are already severely
stressed due to over-utilisation. Furthermore, most of the coastal towns
experience water shortage problems during peak holiday periods. We are
concerned that the ad hoc approach to the water supply issue
will eventually lead to more large-scale groundwater abstraction schemes,
such as the one in the Kammanassie Mountains, which has proven to have
a substantial detrimental impact on the environment.
The Garden Route is renowned for it's unique landscapes and natural splendour.
The maintenance of its environmental integrity is the very fragile platform
on which sustainable socio-economic development is constructed for the
benefit of all it's communities, present and future. All the relevant
authorities in partnership with the communities we serve, need to take
collective responsibility to ensure that this platform is protected at
Lloyd JW, van den Berg EC and van Wyk E 1999 The mapping of threats to
biodiversity in the Cape Floristic Region with the aid of remote sensing
and geographic information systems. Agricultural Research Council - Institute
for Soil, Climate and Soil Report No. GW/A1999/54. ARC, Pretoria.
Lombard, A.T., Wolf, T & Cole, N. 2003. GIS coverages and spatial
analyses for the Subtropical Thicket Ecosystem Planning (STEP) Project.
Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, University of Port Elizabeth. Report
42: 78 pp.
Pierce, S.M. 2003. The STEP Handbook. Integrating the natural environment
into land use decisions at the municipal level: towards sustainable development.
Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit Report No. 47. University of Port Elizabeth.
Vlok, J.H.J. & Euston-Brown, D. 2002. Report by biological survey
component for conservation planning for biodiversity in the Thicket Biome.
Terrestrial Ecology Research Unit, University of Port Elizabeth.
Vlok, J.H.J., Euston-Brown, D. & Cowling, R.M. 2003. Acocks' Valley
Bushveld - 50 years on: New perspectives on the delimitation, characterisation
and origin of sub-tropical thicket. SA J. Bot. 69(1): 27-51.
Enquiries: Ms M Naudé
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